Mike Tomlin explained the unusual and almost-never-seen-anymore practice period Wednesday of a live session where runners were actually tackled to the ground to the limited practice time set forth by the collective bargaining agreement.
Sure, that might have where the idea originated, but make no mistake about it, the session had a more deep-rooted meaning than that.
There’s no secret that the Steelers want to run the ball this year. No, like seriously run the ball like they used to.
The Steelers ran for just more than 1,500 yards a year ago – their second fewest in a full season since the NFL adopted the 16-game schedule in 1978. It was also was their fifth-worst rushing season in the past 50 years and their worst in any nonlosing season during that time.
So, of course they want and need to run the ball better to be successful and they also want to play to their strengths.
All of a sudden, the Steelers biggest (potential) strength on offense is their offensive line with Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey.
Add those guys to one of the best blocking tight ends in the league (Matt Spaeth), the unlimited potential of rookie second-round running back Le’Veon Bell and a new zone blocking scheme and, of course, the Steelers want to run the ball.
And what better opportunity to prove that than with an old-fashioned live practice period.
Ryan Clark sure seems to feel that way.
“(Coach Tomlin) has to set a tone,” Clark told me. “Not necessarily because we were 8-8 last year, but because we want to be a physical football team. Offensively, we are going to run the ball. We drafted a running back in the second round who is a pounder and can break tackles so you want to get those guys reps.”
Clark, who got an up close look at that new-look running game when he filled a hole just to run right into a hard-charging Bell, admits that the offense got the best of the defense during the period, but is OK with that.
“We had some tackles for losses and good plays but we need to find a way to score points and control the ball,” Clark said of the offense. “Le’Veon ran the ball extremely well and I think he was able to punish guys down the field, which is huge for a running back.”
Bell’s prettiest play is when he ran a stretch play to the left and cut back to the right and plowed his way to a 30-yard gain in which he ran over cornerback Curtis Brown in the process. It showed his strength, speed, quickness and awareness all with one run.
“I ran the stretch a lot at Michigan State so I am patient on that,” Bell said. “I saw the defense flowing and I made a cut and got some yards.”
Still, Steelers fans might be wise to temper their enthusiasm on the renewed vigor of the run game. I do believe that’s been a theme for the past couple years and we all know how that worked out.
But I guess this is a good start.
* Casey Hampton might be gone, but he’s not forgotten.
The Steelers have left his locker unoccupied at St. Vincent College with his name plate still intact.
* For the past couple of years, Tomlin allowed golf carts on the field after practice to transport players (mostly veterans and coaches) to the locker room. Well, that’s something that Tomlin put an end to this year. Read what you want into it, but it’s definitely a change from the recent routine.
* Rookie offensive lineman Mike Golic Jr. received six stitches above his left eye. But get this, it happened before he even arrived at training camp. Golic said he was the wrong end of an elbow during a workout jest before reporting day.
* One observation so far: Don’t expect much out of the Heath Miller-less tight ends when it comes to catching the ball.